Jeanne Madden

Jeanne Madden2

Jeanne Madden was one of those girls who got to Hollywood thanks to their previous acting experience (and not just their looks), girls who were given plenty chances to become stars, and when that failed, were quickly sacked and pushed into oblivion. Luckily, in Jeanne’s case she knew when to quit, thus Hollywood did not need to brutally remind her time’s up.

EARLY LIFE:

Jeanne Ethel Madden was born on  on November 10, 1917 in Scranton, Pennsylvania to Harry Madden and his wife, Grace Browning. Her older brother, Ralph C., was born in 1912.

Her father owned a boarding house, called “Holland Hotel”, and ran it together with her mother. They had  a diverse cast of boarders, lodgers and guests in 1930, ranging from people from other states to people from other continents like several Welsh and Irish men. Yet, her father’s real passion was not real estate but rather music – he was an amateur musician (singer to be exact) and even founded his very own quartet, aptly named The Harry Madden Quartet. Her mother, Grace, was an accomplished pianist and served as accompanist to her daughter from the very beginning. Jeanne was a coloratura soprano, the highest possible voice, and it was clear a great future awaited the girl.

Jeanne Madden 3Jeanne attended Central High School, and there her dramatic and musical talent shone brightly- she was the school’s star, playing in every school play. It paid off. In 1932, at the tender age of 15, Jeanne was already a featured soloist at many of the town’s prestigious functions, like Mothe’rs Auxiliary of the Crusade chapter, Order of de Molay, held at the masonic temple.  In 1933, she was the star of her school’s cantata “In old Japan”.

News about the  wildly talented girl traveled fast, and she was on the train to New York in 1934, becoming the protegee of  the Metropolitan opera diva, Queena Maio. That same year she became a singer for the NBC Radio network. Jeanne graduated from high school in 1935 and enrolled into Duke University to further her education. Then, something unexpected happened.

In February 1936 she was noticed by the head of Warner Bros studio, the formidable Jack Warner, who wanted the girl signed right away. What Jack wants, Jack gets, and mid 1936 she was on her way to California. Her departure was the social event of the year in Scranton, gathering quite a large mass to the train station. Her father’s own quartet sang several songs, and she had a special police escort from the Hotel Holland to the station! One newspaperman summed it up nicely when he wrote:

“Scrantoninas who followed her progress from success to success remembered her as a child inheriting a musical nature, singing in the school concerts, a lovely young girl in white ,invariably overshadowing other talented students, singing her little heart out to school audiences. They watched her immaculate acting in “Wisteria” and “Pinaforte” and concluded that here was a young lady who would bring fame to her native city and distinguish herself and her family.”

CAREER:

By Hollywood standards, Jeanne was given a decent chance to become a star (acting opposite big names and in A class production) but her reviews were always dismal, proving that perhaps she was a great singer, but lacking as an actress. On the high side, those same dismal critics noted how likable and cute she was – while several actors/actresses managed to capitalize on their good looks or cuteness, forgo talent, and become stars, others need more to attain stardom, and sadly Jeanne was one of them. That “something more”, as per usual, never came.  

7pidal1uv8c33cuStage Struck  was supposed to be her big “star” role. A Busby Berkeley production with Dick Powell – what more could you need? A lot more, it seems. Not only was Busby in the middle of a manslaughter charge, but the story, the songs and dances are all rip offs of his earlier work (the superior  42nd STREET and FOOTLIGHT PARADE). Not that his movies have any story to start with, but the same old characters in same old situations with the same old massive scenes did not make the grade. Powell, Blondell and the old guard of actors like Warren William are good as usual, but it is Jeanne in her Ruby-Keeler-like-role that is the weak link in the chain. As I already noted, she did not have “it” – no sass, no personality, no elusive quality that makes somebody a star.

Despite her shortcomings, Scranton went mad for the young songstress, and here is an excerpt of what happened on the premiere of the movie:

Hollywood came to Scranton on Aug. 28, 1936. That Friday night, an estimated 6,000 people jammed the downtown streets to welcome hometown girl turned movie star, Jeanne Madden.

The Strand Theater hosted the premiere showing of her first movie, “Stage Struck.” Organized by Warner Bros. Studio and the Comerford Theater chain, it was the first such event of its kind in this city. Rain began hours before and continued incessantly but failed to deter the crowds. Spotlights illuminated the street, and anticipation filled the air.

The crowds were orderly – until the star’s car approached. Then their excitement gave way, and mayhem ensued. Firefighters and police officers formed lines on both sides of the throng to provide a lane through which Miss Madden and her party could walk. But the crowd pushed and shoved the officials. Mayor Stanley Davis, standing in the theater lobby, ordered police to call for additional men.

Several women and children were crushed in the tight crowd, fainted and had to be carried inside the theater, where Dr. Arthur Davis, director of public health, treated them. No one was seriously hurt, and Miss Madden was able to make it safely into the theater.

In the lobby, the star spoke a few words of appreciation to the crowd gathered there. A microphone had been set up for that purpose.

Inside the theater itself, Mr. Davis took the stage to present the hometown girl to her audience. And a girl she was. Born in 1917, Jeanne Madden had graduated from Central High School, where she appeared in many of its theatrical productions. She had a beautiful singing voice, made better through training with Queena Maria, the prima donna of the New York Metropolitan Opera Company. The aspiring actress had left for Hollywood little more than a year before she returned for this premiere.

“Stage Struck” starred Dick Powell as Broadway dance director George Randall and Joan Blondell as Peggy Revere, a wealthy performer with little talent who stars in Mr. Randall’s show only because she is backing it. On opening night, the temperamental Ms. Revere storms out, leaving chorus girl Ruth Williams, played by Miss Madden, to step into the lead role.

At the premiere, Miss Madden took the stage wearing a yellow evening dress of simple lines. She called Ms. Blondell “a peach” and described Mr. Powell as “a fine chap.” Miss Madden thanked the crowd for its “wonderful reception home” and said that she “felt just the same” as when she graduated from Central High School, “only, if anything, a little more nervous.”

“I hope you all like the picture, and I hope you all get ‘stage struck,'” she said, and bowed off the stage. She returned to acknowledge the ovation that the audience gave her, and asked, “Would you like to hear a little number that is very dear to me?” As the audience clapped and shouted, she began to sing “I’ve Done My Work,” a favorite of her father, the late Harry Madden.

The audience delivered a shower of flowers across the floodlights as she finished the song. She chose one bouquet, plucked several buds from it and, before leaving the stage, tossed them in the direction of her mother, who was seated in an upper box.

(taken from this link)

Sadly, the studio brass saw the writing on the wall, and Jeanne’s days as a star were numbered. Talent Scout was the type of film Doris Day would make in the 50s – the female lead is is a feisty but ultimately pure girl out for a career who falls in love and chooses marriage instead. When you can sum up the plot in one sentence like this, it can’t be good, and the movie was nothing spectacular. The fact that her leading man, Donald Woods, is better known as a character actor than a romantic lead today is proof enough.

Jeanne Madden 5Sea Racketeers was that silly, low budget movie Republic Studios made by the dozen in the 1930s, and once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen it all. Nothing extinguished this one, and the leads, played blandly by Jeanne and Weldon Heyburn, sure did not help.

Just when it was clear there was little to no chance of her becoming a star, Jeanne gave up movies to get married and work in the theater. She had her only Broadway credit in Knickerbocker Holiday. This 1938/1939 feature was a political allegory with music by Kurt Weill and was so successful it was made as a movie and had several reruns. Yet, even this did not push Jeanne into a more permanent career on the stage.

After leaving both Hollywood and Broadway, she starred in operas like “Hansel and Gretel,” “The Duped Kadi” and “Secret of Suzanne.” While making Hansel and Gretel in 1940 she made headlines when, after noticing a mouse during rehearsals, her screams were so high pitched people had no idea what hit them.

Jeanne largely retired from showbiz by 1950s, but continued to sing for charity purposes.

PRIVATE LIFE:

One of the first things anyone noticed about Jeanne was how fresh she was, and the papers heralded her wholesome looks. Also of note was her talent of being able to sing so high as too actually shatter glass!

Jeanne was, by all accounts, a prim, proper small town girl, the ideal of every mother in the Mid West. She took her career and education seriously, but when the perfect guy came knocking down, there was no questions about her future plans – she married him!

Jeanne married George Keith Martin on June 3, 1938, in Elm Park Church in  Scranton. They left Hollywood in Late May 1938 for the ceremony and never really came back. Martin was born in 1910 in New Jersey, and proved to be a great choice for JeanneThe press heralded her happy marriage to a painter as early as 1939. 

Jeanne Madden 4Jeanne and Keith lived in a rented home in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1940. Keith served as the director of an art institute there. The papers of the time describe him as “Lecturer: the Institute’s director, husky, 30-year-old Keith Martin, onetime Harvard crewman and portrait painter.”

The Martins marriage lasted for more than 50 years, and they had three sons between them: Harry, Keith and Robert. Keith Martin, born in 1946, became a brigadier in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, and after he left the army found work as the  news anchor at WBRE-TV in Wilkes-Barre. In 2003, he caught the eye of Governor Ed Randell, and became the state’s new homeland security director.

After her mother’s death, Jeanne returned to Scranton to run the family hotel, Holland Hotel, for several years.

Jeanne was highly active in the civic life in Hillslville, Pennsylvania, where they resided from the 1950s. She sang at charity gatherings and taught whole generations of children the art of singing.

Jeanne M. Martin died on January 15, 1989, in Moscow, Pennsylvania.

Her widower Keith Martin died on September 1997, in Luzerne, Pennsylvania.

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Georgette Windsor

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Georgette Windsor will never be remembered for her acting career, or indeed any of her career achievements. Why? In a nut shell, she was a stunningly pretty girl who used her looks to date prominent men and marry well.  And I must say she she very good at this, much more successful than in her professional life.

EARLY LIFE:

Georgia Walters was born in 1924 to Earl Waters and his wife in Attica, Indiana. Her older sister Virginia was born in 1922. The family moved to Michigan not long after Georgia’s birth.

In 1930, Georgia was living in Benton Harbour with her father, sister, paternal grandparents, George and Ella, and two aunts, Josephine and Mildred.

Georgia lived in the two cities until 1942, when she departed for Chicago to attend Seaman’s modeling school. In her spare time, Georgia was a pencil artist and designer, and wanted to work in that field.

After officially “becoming” a model, Georgia moved to New York, changed her name to Georgette Windsor, and started a career as a designer. It did not pay the bills, so on the side, she started a highly successful career as a high fashion mannequin. A movie scout noticed her in the Harry Conover waiting room and took her to Hollywood.

CAREER:

Altought famous as a model in those circles, Georgette was nameless until 1946, when Hollywood beckoned the pretty girl. There were some dubious stories about Georgette that I would brand as pure publicity. She allegedly refused a Hollywood contract in favor of some modeling work, but she was living in Los Angeles in 1946 and dating her way up, meaning more that she could not be bothered with acting. The motion I get about Georgette is someone who tells the papers one thing, and deep inside means something diametrically opposite.

mAJrxQnVakMV6LOpfF4Fw_AGeorgette made only two movies, and this in itself is an achievement as there were tons of very nice looking models who come to Hollywood hoping to crash it and become stars, but in the end never even come in front of the camera.

Fittingly to her East coast allure and marriage into old school money, Georgette was cast in Luxury Liner, a simple but earnest MGM musical made purely for enjoyment, with no illusions of being a great art piece. Jane Powell, as usual, is energetic and charming, and George Brent handsome enough to make you forget how much of an wooden actor  he really is.

Continuing her tres chic , Georgette second and last movie was Reign of Terror, a solid film French revolution film encrusted into a film noir mold. The combination of a historical event with a modern filming style is very intensive and well done by the director, Anthony Mann. And kudos to the fabulous cast headed by Richard Basehart and Robert Cummings.

Having married well and with no need for an external income, Georgette gave up Hollywood after this.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Welcome to Georgette’s bread and butter. Yes, to her huge merit, she was an independent girl who worked in New York at a time when most women were housewives, and she sis have a minuscule Hollywood career, but I see her more of a publicity magnet than a true working girl.

What irks me personally with her is that she claimed several time in the papers how her career is the most important thing to her, and everything takes a back seat to it. Yet, again and again she refuted this.

in 1946, when she came to Hollywood, she was one of the lucky few dated by Cary Grant for a short period. Johnny Meyer, the right hand of Howard Hughes and a well known womanizer took over from Cary. It was via Johnny that Georgette would meet a man who was to become very important for her life, Harry Cushing IV., the Vanderbilt heir from an ancient WASP family.

The official story goes that Johnny had a dinned date with Georgette, but was unable to keep with it. Knowing better than to cancel to a girl at the last moment, he send his old pal Harry in his place. Harry had already seen Georgette and liked what he saw, so it was a no brainer for him. The two hit it off right then and there, with Georgette breaching the story of how she wanted to have a proper career, marry and have children later in life.

47-original-paris-hollywood-pin-up-girls-susan-haywardThings progressed very quickly from there. By October 1946, they were a staple at the press columns. And then the games started. While it’s hard to say exactly what’s the truth and whats a lie, the official story goes that Georgette pined for a career, and refused Harry’s marriage proposals a few times. There was even a half hearted elopement to Las Vegas that was cancelled at the last minute. Again, I doubt all of this is true, but who knows?

It’s also worth to note that Georgette had a very good relationship with her sister Ruth, by then married to a Robert Ray and living back home in St. Joseph – she visited every so often. The St. Joseph press loved her, of course, as the local girl who made good in the wide world.

It’s no rarity to see a handsome WASP from the highest echelon of society dating a pretty model/actress/singer, but most of them are never serious about these gals and toss them aside when mama and poppa command it to marry somebody from their own class. Not so with Harry and Georgette. Whatever she did, she did it right – the indicator of just how serious Harry was about her is the instance of his obvious distress when she was ailing in June 1947.  Predictably, they eloped just week after that in late June 1947. A bad omen happened before the ceremony – there was a slight problem with Harry’s trust fund and they had to wait for a little bit longer to wed. This would, in the future, cause some problems for the carefree couple.

Many doors opened to Georgette after her marriage to Cushing. Not only was she able to get an entry into the Social Register, but she entered the creme de la creme of East coast society. Georgette could now afford to be stylish. And living in style Georgette did. She wore sable suspenders for Pete’s sake! However, her desire to be an actress tore her husband off the pages of the social register and stopped her own inclusion in it. 

The papers reported them tiffing as early as September 1947, claiming she was career minded and Harry just wanted her to become Mrs. Cushing. Now this is highly dubious. It’s not the first time that Georgette tried the “my career comes first” motto, but why did she than marry a idle millionaire heir? Didn’t she know what he would expect of her? If she truly wanted to be a career gal so much, I doubt she would have married Harry Cushing. I am very impressed by working women of those ages, but you have to be realistic when choosing your spouse and know that person well enough to at least try and understand what he wants from his wife.

Georgette went back to Hollywood briefly, returned to New York, walked out of Harry in public at least on one occasion, made up,  and then they intended to take an ocean liner cruise to Europe. Marital problems stopped that plan – in October she was very vocal about wanting to divorce Harry. Harry tried to persuade her out of it – he gifted her with an extremely valuable family heirloom, an 85 carat emerald ring. It worked, and the two were back together by November 1947. Strange but true, Georgette only met her in-laws for the first time that December.

16919531_31948 started as a really rocky road for the couple. After so many tiffs most of the people lost count of it, Georgette signed divorce papers in April 1948 and asked 1,200$ in alimony per month. She only got 250$ as the judge claimed the marriage was too short to ask for anything more. There were further problems over the fact that Harry had a trust fund he could not touch (due to some restrictions his parents set up) as his main source of income, and Georgette could not get a chunky part of it no matter what. Both dated other people in the interim – she Bob Darrin, and he Lila Leeds.

Then Georgette collapsed from the nervous strain and Harry rushed to her rescue. She was in the hospital for a time, they rekindled their romance, and effectively reconciled in July. Cushing was madly in love with Georgette despite all the drama that always happened when they were together. he gave her a diamond pin for their anniversary and they honeymooned at the Waldorf Hotel. Yet, Georgette played it cool and sometimes dated “other” men, like Charles Feldman, to keep her husband in line.

October bough new problems for the couple. She again sued him for a divorce, he again pleaded poverty in his name, and she put her eyes on Peter Salm, the very wealthy son of Milicent Rogers. Cushing departed for Europe to get far way from Georgette and hopefully divorce her. Georgette followed him, but instead of trying to concentrate on the revival of their marriage, she dated the dashing Parisienne Claude Cartier of the jewelry family. She then moved to Rome, where Harry was, but dated an American cameraman instead of her husband.

As one can imagine, 1949 started badly (again) for the couple. The press was constantly at their throats about a divorce, and Harry took up with Arlene Dahl in February. All this while the two still tried for a permanent reconciliation – the columnists who pushed them for a divorce were keen in noticing how she goes out with Harry often. Despite these repeated tries at a marital bliss, Georgette did not stay idle – she played the field like a pro she was. Her newest swain was Howard Lee, a wealthy Houston oilman. Now, Howard will prove to be quite an interesting man as far as actresses go. Georgette was his first foray into the land of pretty Hollywood gals, and certainly not the last.  They dated from mid 1949 until early 1950, and Georgette constantly tried to trick the press by claiming Howard was her good friend. Of course nobody bough that, and it’s not the first time she tried to twist the facts. Howard flew back and forth from Houston to date her, but no marriage plans were ever mentioned. His family or something else? Anyway, after the affair melted, Howard romanced both Hedy Lamarr and Gene Tierney, two of the most beautiful Hollywood actresses (IMHO, both more beautiful than Georgette). Sometime during 1949, she and Harry were finally divorced after a short, passionate but troubled marriage. 

In true Hollywood fashion, she had escorts “on the side”, like the famous Hollywood director Anatole Litvak and Leon Shamroy, the notable cinematographer. Then, in early 1950, Georgette became interested in Manuel Reachi, a debonair, elegant Mexican gentleman from a good family, a permanent fixture in Hollywood high society circles, and former husband of actress Agnes Ayres. The story about Agnes and Manuel’s marriage is a sad one, as it ended bitterly, and Agnes had her daughter taken from her (before dying relatively young and broke). Georgette should have taken a cue from this, but unfortunately she wore blinkers when she was in love (with the greenery, I should assume.)  They married in cca. may 1950. Cushing was crushed by her marriage, as he hoped they would end up together (again).

Reachi was born in 1900 in Madrid, making his much older than Georgette, but he was doubtless more mature than Cushing was. Their son was born in cca. July 1951. From now on things get complicated.

Mr. and Mrs. Harry Cushing Eating Ice creamIn November 1952, Georgette retained attorney Milton Golden to get her a divorce from Reachi. She wasted no time, and went directly to Rome during the divorce proceedings, in all probability knowing that her former husband Cushing was there vacationing to forget her. It worked – there were rumors the two would wed again. Cushing really seemed to adore her and gave her chance after chance (not that he himself was a saint, but Georgette was the more fickle of the two IMHO). Unfortunately, Reachi was not ready to give up so easily. He demanded full custody of their son, refusing to grant any visitation right to Georgette. She went to Mexico, tried to sort things out, but things did not go smoothly at all. She lost custody and was not to see her son again for almost six years. She and Cushing made the final cut during this time.

To continue living Georgette style, she went back to the US and the dating game. She made headlines by leaving her escort, Paul Ellis, on the curb after driving away with his car. Surprisingly, Ellis continued to date her. She then caused a hot mess by getting in between her former suitor, Howard Lee, and his then girlfriend, Hedy Lamarr. In 1954, there were even rumors she would wed another Mexican millionaire. She met her match by briefly dating Lance Fuller, an actor who also dated them all. She scored another rich suitor by wooing Jack Straus of the famous banking family, in 1955.

In 1956, she was seen with another richman, Daniel Sainte. About that time, she settled in Paris, not that far from her former husband who was living in Rome. She tried to go a legitimate business and opened a boutique for infants. In 1957, she finally saw her son after a long separation, but the boy still continued to live with his late father’s family in Mexico.

In 1958, she and actor Bruce Cabot were looking for backing to open a Paris cafe – by then she was infamous as the part of a colony US girls living it high on the Riviera. In 1960, she finally got back to the US, and got full custody of her son.

Georgette falls off the radar after 1960. I have no idea what happened to her and indeed if she is still alive.

PS:  Happy Christmas to all! 🙂

Eleanore Whitney

Eleanor Whitney 1

One of the best tap dancers to grace Hollywood, Eleanore Whitney never achieved a level of fame that her fellow tapper Ann Miller did, but she had the luck of playing leads and was a lively, vivacious presence in several Paramount 1930s musicals

EARLY LIFE:

Eleanor Wittenburg was born on April 12, 1917 in Cleveland, Ohio to Abraham and Anna Wittenburg. Her younger sister Ruth was born in 1920.

Eleanore’s mother was the sister of Adolph Zukor, who was already a wealthy businessman by then – he would only grow richer and richer as the founder of Paramount and a colossal figure in old Hollywood.

Little is known about Eleanore’s childhood, except that when she was ten years old she met Bill Robinson backstage at the Palace Theatre in Cleveland. He was so taken by her dancing that he took to giving her lessons whenever he was in the city. Later he offered to teach her each day during a two month stay in New York and was instrumental in the start of her career.

In the meantime, Eleanore took her education seriously, graduated from high school and attended college for one years before deciding on a full time career in show biz.

As Robinson’s protegee, she landed roles in prestigious Broadway productions, and ended up in Hollywood in 1935, just 18 years old and ready to rumble!

CAREER:

Eleanore Whitney 3Eleanore was one of the those lucky people who get to Hollywood and land leading parts from the very start. Most of these people have a solid background in theatrics – and Eleanor had it in spades. Alas, this was not the only reason – Eleanore’s uncle was Adolph Zukor, and this undoubtedly helped the youth gain some credibility in Hollywood. This is notoriously hard for some newcomers. Yet, it would be a stretch to say that she was  talentless chit trying to milk her uncle for top roles- not only was she the fastest tap dancer living at the time, but she never achieved  a great career, and, indeed, never had parts in A class productions. Eleanore specialized in fluffy and puffy comedies with a low calorie plot and no great dramatic merit.

How many people can say that their very first movie is named after their character in it? Just a few, and Eleanor was one of them. Oh, Evaline! was a Broadway transfer to movies, a short one reeler . The Big Broadcast of 1936 was a pastiche of various Broadway skits, having Eleanore just one of many featured stars.

The course of her career was well charted by Millions in the Air, as it was the type of movie Eleanore would make many more times. The silly comedy with an unbelievable plot, handsome, endearing actors and an obligatory happy ending – and truly welcome to Hollywood! Timothy’s Quest , the typical warm story of a youngster who melts the stone heart of an older spinster, pushed Eleanor into second view as a very minor character, but she was back in the game with Three Cheers for Love. The musical, despite being an early Robert Cummings movie appearance, is totally forgotten today. Hollywood Boulevard , one of those movies that would have been great but ended up a failure due to a fatal flaw (a totally obnoxious character just overshadows all else) again had Eleanor deep in the supporting roster. The Big Broadcast of 1937, obviously just an update of the previous Big Broadcast movie, did not do any miracles for her career. Yet, at a time when many actresses would have been doomed to a slow decay, Eleanore rose to new professional heights with her next few movies.

fcmdbzjq67vx6qvbRose Bowl gave Eleanore another chance as the female leading role, and College Holiday was a pleasant enough romp with an impressive cast – Jack BennyGeorge Burns and Gracie AllenMary Boland and Martha Raye among others. Altough slightly overshadowed by such a large amount of talented performers, Eleanore still gets her own five minutes of fame.

Clarence put Eleanor as a part of a huge, comically dysfunctional family. Turn Off the Moon was a typical Paramount musical of that time – cheap, low quality and with an tepid musical score. Nothing notable to write home about and Eleanore was yet again pushed into the second tier by her male costars Charles Ruggles and Phil Harris.

Blonde Trouble was purely an escapist fantasy with her and Johnny Downs, then Eleanore’s real life boyfriend, in the leads. Given better circumstances, the two could have been a true musical pairing in the vein of Jeanette McDonald/Nelson Eddy, or Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire. Yet, as we already noted, Paramount in the 1930s was not the best place to be for musical stars. Their musicals lagged behind MGM, RKO and Warners by miles, and neither of their musical actor/actresses achieved any recognition in the genre via those movies.

 Thrill of a Lifetime continued in the escapist vein, but the movie’s intrinsic charm and a few good performers make for a very pleasant viewing.

Eleanore Whitney

Campus Confessions revealed the future queen of the 20th Century Fox lot, and guess what, it was not Eleanore, but rather Betty Grable. Betty never came close to Eleanore as far as tapping goes, but she has that sass and passion easily detected by the audience in great movie stars, something Eleanore evidently did not have. Yet, it took a change of studio even for Betty to gain some prominence. One wonders could Eleanore perhaps have done the same?

Well, it is one thing we will never find out, as Eleanore did not even try to change gears, but simply gave up movies after marrying in early 1939.

She moved to New York, and had only one more professional appearance, on Broadway in 1946.

PRIVATE LIFE:

As we already mentioned, Eleanore was very lucky upon arriving in Hollywood – not only did she land leading roles immediately, but the press loved her so much she was photographed frequently and featured in everything from fashion spreads to columns about beauty tips. She even rode one of the first Vespa motor bikes to come to America (the bike looks really strange, not like the Vespa we know today). If we learned anything about these publicity tricks by now, it’s that they often have no real results – unfortunately, the same happened in Eleanore’s case. She was also infamous around Tinsel Town for being a perpetually thin girl who had to go on a diet to gain (not lose!) weight.

Eleanore had a difficult relationship with her dad, Abraham. Her parents separated early, and she was close to her mother and sister but not her father. When she achieved  some degree of popularity through her Hollywood movies, he sued for failure to support, claiming it was her job as a daughter to financially back him up. She refused to pay at first, but later they got to an agreement (which was never enclosed to the public).

Eleanore Whitney1936 was a busy year for Eleanore, both professionally and privately. She wooed John Howard, the handsome young actor, and was wooed by Luther B. Davis, who new how to treat a lady and escorted her everywhere, including the famous Santa Anita race track.

Eleanore dated her frequent costar, Johnny Downs, for a year and a half – they were one of the Hollywood couples who were paired both professionally and privately, along with Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy and so on. For unknown reasons, the couple never got engaged to married.

Then, something really typical of the Hollywood star machine happened – Eleanore allegedly dumped Johnny and took up the Stanford basketball ace, Hank Luasetti. The papers covered it from head to toe. It’s one thing when they play this game – love drama and triangles – inside Hollywood circles, and get a win win situation – everybody gets publicity, and usually everybody ends up with someone totally unrelated to the original troika – but it’s another thing when they push a clean cut, preppy guy from Stanford into the mix. Poor Hank had a fiancee back home in San Francisco and this damaged his relationship with the girl, and his reputation. While the true story remains to be seen, it’s an banal example of how Hollywood likes to twist reality for a little bit of “magic”.

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Now, it’s stupid to claims Luasetti was a blameless victim (maybe he did have an affair with the pretty Eleanore?), but I sincerely think that Hank had a star crush on Eleanore, that they went out once or twice but their relationship was overblown by the ever vigilant reporters out for a juicy story, and he regretted even talking to her.

In 1938, Eleanore was seen with the legendary baseball player, Hank Greenberg. Greenberg would later marry starlet Mary Jo Tarola.

Eleanore married a well off man from a solid family: Frederick Backer, a former US assistant attorney, in February 1939. They were engaged just two months prior, in December 1938. Backer was born on December 2, 1909, in New York City to Sara and George Backer, both born in Germany. Backer as a well traveled man who visitd Europe several times before their marriage. The couple honeymooned in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

Eleanore Whitney 2

She was just 21 years old, but ready to dedicate her life to her husband and family. Columnists lamented her departure from Tinsel Town, but Eleanore left, and never looked back. She and her husband lived in Manhattan in 1940, along with his sister, Louise, a maid and a butler, indicating how well off they were. Their daughter, Nancy Anne Backer, was born in 1941. Eleanor continued to dance for fun, and even gave free dancing lessons to orphans in a New York orphanage. 

Backer died in 1971. Eleanor did not remarry after the death of her husband, and lived the rest of her days in New York City.

Eleanore Backer died in November 1983 in New York City.

Dee Turnell

Dee Turnell

Looking at Dee Turnell’s filmography, it’s almost like seeing a list of the best musicals made in the 1940s and 1950s. As a trained ballet dancer with an extensive background in chorus work, she worked exclusively in the musical genre, dancing endless hours and giving it her best years. This devotion also constitutes the main tragedy of her career –  today, she remains totally obscure to all except the most devoted of musical fans. 

EARLY LIFE:

Edythe Helen Turnell was born on November 27, 1925, in Westmont, DuPage, Illinois to Charles Allen Turnell and his 20 years younger wife, Edith H. Turnell. She had an older brother, Warren, and two half siblings from her mother’s prior marriage, Junior Hilling and Geneoave Hilling.

It was clear from her earliest childhood that Edythe was a natural at dancing, and her mother enrolled her into ballet classes. By the age of 10, she was appearing on the stage, by the age of 16 making her living as a dancer, and by the age of 18 was a veteran of the stage,  a part time model to make ends meet (her sister Geneoave was the first to start that fad in the family), and a triple winner of titles in the Chicago’s Artists and Models Contest (for glamour, smile and figure). Dee gave up her high school education to dance in cities like Pittsburgh and Detroit during the war (in 1942 and 1943). 

In 1944, she went to New York for better job opportunities, became a Conover Model and danced on the side. She struck gold when she got the role in Dream with Music as an understudy of Vera Zorina. The play was a miss and closed after just two weeks, but the famous impresario Monte Prosser noticed Dee and got her a spot at the world famous Copacabana chorus line. She also scored a Collier magazine cover November 20, 1944. It was this that caught the attention of a talent scout from Hollywood, who persuaded Dee to try her luck on the West Coast.

CAREER:

Dee was a part of the golden age of MGM musical, one of the times in movie history that pure magic and escapism actually made good viewing. This is a great achievement for anyone in the showbiz industry, and it’s clear that she worked hard at her craft and was an elegant, accomplished dancer.

Dee started her acting career in Copacabana, a movie that desperately tries to revive the magic and allure of it’s stars, Groucho Marx and Carmen Miranda, both waaay past their prime by the late 1940s. As in real life, she played one of the Copa girls. Needless to say,  as all movies that try too hard, it fails. Not a starry start,but it gets better. Cass Timberlane, originally a sharp and biting book by  Sinclair Lewis, became a drama that was sugarcoated to meet the typical demands of Hollywood. It was one of the very few non musicals Dee made, and today is still worth watching, if for nothing but to see Spencer Tracy and the ever sexy Lana Turner together.

Now, Dee took a leap upwards, and had a names character role in The Pirate, a charming, fluffy and totally lightweight Gene Kelly vehicle. Her next appearance was an absolute hit and one of the best 1940s musicals, Easter Parade, one of the few movies that gave Judy Garland a true chance to shine and show her diverse talents. Words and Music followed, less in quality than Easter Parade, but still a decent example of the genre. The Barkleys of Broadway, the last movie Astaire/Rogers movie, made with both of them in middle age and not the young and vivacious couple they were for their 1930s RKO output, is accordingly a more mature musical than most Dee made. Not to say that the plot is a shining example of complex storytelling, but the sole act of moving away from the idealized stage of falling in love and tackling the issues of long standing couples that have slipped into a routine (like the desire for change after years of repetition) touched a slightly different cord, and proved to be the very thing Astaire and Rogers needed.

5wk5ktrmy4ktk4rDee was pushed into a new type of musical: aquatic extravaganza, with who else but the queen of the genre, Esther WilliamsNeptune’s Daughter is one of the better showcases for the athletic star, bringing nothing new nor especially exciting, but Red Skelton and Ricardo Montalban are charming leading men, and Esther always stuns with her swimming numbers. Tea for Two was a No, no Nanette remake with Doris Day and her best singing partner, Gordon MacRae. With this, Dee entered the golden part of her career, having small roles in a classic musical after classical musical.

It started with Royal Wedding, a Astaire/Jane Powell gem, moved to Show Boat, a very good version of the Edna Ferber classic, with Kathryn GraysonAva Gardner and Howard Keel, got little off track with the average Mickey Rooney potboiler, The Strip, and then hit high notes again with An American in Paris  and Singin’ in the Rain.

Her musical output slowed down after this, and Dee found herself cast in a minor role in a great dramatic movie, The Bad and the Beautiful.The Girl Who Had Everything was an early showcase for Elizabeth Taylor, not a particularly good movie, but the gorgeous fashion and beautiful actors (Liz at her physical best and the dashing Fernando Lamas) make for a pleasant viewing. It was back to musicals once again with the dapper, elegant The Band WagonBrigadoon gave Dee her one credited role – in one of the most nonsensical musicals (in terms of plot) ever made, and that’s saying a lot. Yet, seeing Gene Kelly dance somehow melts all the other doubts away. Deep in My Heart was a direct, verbatim translation of a Broadway hit to the screen, but once again, Dee was uncredited. It seemed by now that her chances of getting somewhere high in the strata of Hollywood were zero.

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The string continued with Kismet – a musical that suffers from a serious illness of having an uninteresting story, but possess a lively high quality score, never managed to become a top tier movie. Dee’s last role was an small one The Opposite Sex, a promising remake of The Women that never reached it’s full potential and ends up as a forgettable female romp. And there were actually tons of men in the movie, in total contract to the original where there was not a single man present on screen.

Already a married woman by this time, she gave up Hollywood in late 1955.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Dee was a strong, independent woman who was very loyal to her friends and family. To illustrate the point, when Dee first came to Hollywood, during the wartime shortage of housing when anybody was lucky to get any kind of accommodation, she insisted that her Collie, Cleopatra who was with her from his puppyhood, lived wherever she lived. In the 1940s, it was usually frowned upon when a lodger had a dog, and most people who rented flats did not have any pets for this reason. Combine this with the housing shortage, and you have a woman who risked her job prospects for her canine friend. Luckily, RKO did find her a suitable apartment where she could live with Cleopatra.

Dee was often featured in newspaper columns in the late 1940s, pictured with a very young Elizabeth Taylor on several occasions- Dee was painted as a passionate swimmer who spent a chunk of her free time on the beach. Dee’s legs, toned from years of dancing, were also frequently on display, and won her several prizes. 

As an interesting tidbit, Dee had an highly unusual role in a movie, playing none other than Dean Stockwell’s deceased mother! How, you ask? Simple, her photograph poses for Dean’s late mother’s photograph.  She was slightly airbrushed, so that the artist gave her a vague resemblance to the young Stockwell, by lowering her eyebrows, raising her lower eyelids a trifle, and making her mouth a bit wider.

Information about her love life are slim at best. She dated Curley Harris, one of the Three Stooges, for more than a year, staring in 1945 and ending early in 1947. They were even engaged at some point of the relationship, but it obviously did not yell.

Dee married, very low key, Richard Jerome Thorpe on March 4, 1951. Thorpe was born on August 29, 1926, making him several months younger than Dee. His father was the actor and director Richard Thorpe, whose filmography lists such prestigious pictures like Jailhouse RockFun in Acapulco The Prisoner of ZendaIvanhoe and so on.

Her son, Tracy Thorpe, was born on August 27, 1957. Her first daughter, Tricia A. Thorpe, was born on August 21, 1959. Her second daughter, Tiana H. Thorpe, was born on August 1, 1964.

Dee divorced her husband in 1971. dee moved to West Palm Beach, Floria and became an active participant in the local social life under the name of Dee  Turnell Thorpe. Among others, she was a chairman at a charity gala for a local hospital in 1991.

Dee Turnell died in 2007 from cancer.

Renee De Marco

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One half of the husband/wife dancing team very popular in the 1930s, Renee de Marco was the role model for grace and agility in the US, well known and beloved by thousands of people. Yet, behind the glamorous facade was a woman with a complex private life and a very talented artist who never made it in Hollywood.

EARLY LIFE:

Margaret Evelyn Nerney was born on may 25, 1913, in Burlington, Chittenden, Vermont, to Robert Emmett Nerney, of English ancestry, and Rachel Laduke, who was French Canadian and only 16 at the time.

The family moved to Allentown, Pennsylvania when she was a baby. Renee was educated in a convent, and started dancing as a child. Her precocious, active nature pushed her into a dancing a career very early – she was merely 16 years old when she met Tony DeMarco, a vaudeville dancer. Yet, her parents insisted she graduate from high school, which she did in 1931. By this time, she and Tony were already dancing professionally.

CAREER:

The gist of Renee’s career are not movies nor stage shows, but nightclub and hotel appearances. It would be a very daunting task to make a chronology of all of these, so I’ll just touch upon those I have found on the internet . I already mentioned she met Tony in 1929, and that they started dancing soon afterwards. At first they were vaudeville dancers, and, as their fame grew, so did their reputability and the places they danced became more and more esteemed.

In 1930, the couple made their first headlines, featured in the show “Girl Crazy” off Broadway. In 1932, they got to Broadway in Hot-Cha!. In 1934, they were dancing in the Persian room in New York. In 1935, they made a Vanity Fair editorial

In 1936, they danced in London, England at the prestigious Grosvenor House. An interesting thing happened to Renee while she was there:

 “Imagine how I felt, being invited to dance before the king and queen. It was the happiest day of my life. When we got there I made my mind to i’m have a good look at them before going out to the floor and I sneaked up to a group of men near a doorway and tried to make my way past them. They locked the way and all were looking into the room, and I was sort of trying to make headway without pushing. Then one man, trim, erect, standing there, suddenly seemed to feel that I was persistently near and anxious to get by. He turned around. You can guess it – it was the king himself. He smiled, and I blushed and all kinds of colors, and he said “Are you trying to get through” and before I knew it he had split those manly ranks and I was through. Later I was presented formally and the qeen talked to me for quite a while. Both their majesties are very interested in dancing.”

In early 1938, the couple separated but continued to work together and Renee was later adamant in claiming she was coerced into signing a contract to dance eight more years with Tony (this happened in late 1938). Tony denied Renee’s story, but, no matter how things had really happened, they solved it peacefully and with little fuss by 1941. Both continued their careers efforthlessly afterwards. Renee was a regular at night clubs and occasionally went on stage.

Renee made only one Hollywood movie, in 1953, and a bad one at that – Sword of Venus. It is a listless, boring account of the adventures of Dantes, son of Monte Cristo. It has no good acting names, a paper thin plot and average production values. Could have been worse, for sure, but could have been much better. Renee’s role is quite small. Obviously, Hollywood was not in the cards for her, and no matter how many times she came and tried to have an acting career, it was a “no go”.

By this time, Renee was already semi retired and dedicated to raising her family – she disappeared from the show biz circuit in cca.- 1954.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Renee was a svelte, lean woman, 5 foot 3 inches tall, weighting 103 pounds, with the measurements of 34-23-34, much renown for her agility and grace in the 1930s.

Renee married her first husband, Tony, in 1931, after knowing him for about two years. It’s hard to put a straight line between what’s fact and fiction, business or the real things in Renee and Tony’s relationship. While I understand that their feelings were deeply intervened with their dancing, and, in a way, dancing was a form of making love (as Suzanne Farrell, famous ballerina, notes in her autobiography, to dancers the feeling on the dance floor is sometimes more passionate and intense than anything out of it). I get the feeling that, after she music was over, it was obviously a rocky road. Having a relationship that’s based on dancing is a double edged sword, and Renee and Tony did not quite get the good part in full.

eds1350343828phlvxb1Tony was not the best of husbands either. Born on February 1, 1898, in Buffalo, New York, he was a dancer from his late teens, and was already married once to his dance partner, Nina DeMarco. While he was a stunning presence with a magnetic pull, he lived mostly through his work and had a very strange habit – his famous maxim was that he could not dance with another man’s wife, so naturally, whoever chose to be his partner was either to become wife or never to marry. As a result, he married almost all of the women he danced with – that is obviously not a very good marital record, very similar to George Balanchine who only married his ballet dancers.  

They separated in 1938, but due to their working arrangements things constantly oscillated between on/off. I can imagine just how confusing it all was for them, knowing it will never work out, but still enjoying the closeness and desire of dancing together… in the end it was Renee who insisted that they break it. Tony did not help by being signed first as Joan Crawford’s dancing partner, and then by dating Dorothy Lamour.

In late 1938 she dated George Stone, and was seen with Joe Schneck in early 1939. For a time she was in a serious relationship with Desi Arnaz, then a nightclub owner in New York, but Lucille Ball snatched him under her nose.

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In 1940, it was clear that there was no chance of ever saving the marriage – not only were the papers explicitly clear in the notion that their arrangement was strictly business, but Renee lived as a lodger in a elegant hotel in New York and not with Tony. Renee was at the height of the popularity and social life in 1940s – she was a free woman for the first time in 10 years (after a suffocating marriage), was named one of the best dressed in several publications, her career was on the rise both with and without her former husband, and she was a sough after guest at many high society soirees and cocktail parties.

In June 1941 Renee went to Reno, Nevada for a quicky divorce from Tony. On August 30, 1941, the marriage was officially terminated. Nobody wasted any time after this. Tony, as per his usual modus operandi, took up with his new dance partner, former ballerina Sally Craven, and Renee went on with her career in high gear. Columnist Bob Musel talked to Tony in January 1942, and he admitted that he carried a torch for Renee for a very, very long time, but that now he is at peace with her decision, and only wants the best for her.

Life went on. In March 1943, Renee married dancer Jody Henderson/Hutchingson. Much like Tony, she married her dancing partner, a tricky proposition. Their daughter was born in May 1943.

steichen_dancersRenee for a time worked in Hollywood, and there met and tutored Judy Garland. Renee was Judy’s favorite dancer. A trick of the dance director was to tell Judy, who was notoriously insecure about her singing and dancing, to try and pretend she was Renee and she would immediately dance with more vigor and passion.

Renee was quite active in the Hollywood nightlife. In 1945, she and a string of actresses famously played a strip poker game for charity, where she lost her skirt along with Ann Miller and Nina Foch. Sadly, her marriage to Hutchingson/Henderson fell apart in 1945.

Renee met and fell in love with the influential and famous Hollywood publicity agent, Paul V. Coates. She divorced her husband on August 21, 1947, and married Coates just hours after in Reno, Nevada.

Coates was born on March 10, 1921, in New York, and was to become a columnist for Daily Mirror and several other publications.

Her elder son, Kevin Marley Coates, was born in January 1947. Her younger son Paul Timothy Coates was born on April 3, 1948. She gave up her career to in the mid 1950s to become a high powered wife of a publicity agent, had her nose bobbed, and enjoyed a wide social life.

Her husband died of a heart attack, probably bought over by a unhealthy and stress filled lifestyle, on November 16, 1968. He was just 47 years old.

Renee lived the quiet life afterwards. She moved to Thousand Oaks, California, in the late 1970s. In the mid 1990s, she moved to Bend, Oregon.

Renee Nerney Coates died on November 24, 2000, in Bend, Oregon.

As a special treat, a rare clip of DeMarcos dancing, not Renee and Tony but Tony and Sally, but this type of dance he also danced with Renee.

Renee Whitney

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Renee’s career started in silents, but was truly ignited with the talkies of the Pre Code era. Hers is not a big career, with no meaty and mostly uncredited roles, but she appeared in tons of good films with some very fine actors. Just as it all began with the Pre Code era, It was extinguished not long after the code kicked in July 1934, and she left Hollywood at a young age of 24. 

EARLY LIFE:

Bertha Renee Whitney was born on February 9, 1912, in Chicago, Illinois, to Charles Whitney and Bertha Lehmann, their only child. Her mother was the daughter of German immigrants, born in Nebraska. The family made a series of movies through California during her early childhood, going from Santa Monica, to Venice, and ending up in Los Angeles in the mid 1920s. Her father worked as a manager there, and her mother was a housewife. Renee finished just the first year of high school in Los Angeles before she opted to become an thespian.

In 1930, the family lived with her maternal grandparents and two lodgers in Los Angeles, and Renee was already an established actress by then. That same year, she moved to a rented apartment on the crossing West 1st and Broadway Street in east Los Angeles. Her career had already started, but the best was yet to come.

CAREER:

As I already noted, Renee did not have an exemplary career by a long shot, but managed to appear in a large number of movies in a very short time period, faring much better than some starlets of her rank.

8ac9y2rwxpzr2ywaBelieve it or not, Renee started her career as a teenager in silents (The Chicken Love at First FlightRun, Girl, RunThe Girl from Everywhere). 

Her first sound movie was the Clara Bow classic, The Wild Party. It seems that the “women empowerment” movies became her forte. Those were the movies where women lived freely, were strong and knew what they wanted. Under 18Play-Girl, Week Ends OnlyBaby Face and Winner Take All had female characters in the central roles and tackled issues directly connected to being a woman in the early 1930s. While neither of them is a classic today, they still hold up and have a strikingly contemporary feel about them.

 

Renee than switched her modus operandi to a totally different field, musicals. Her shapely gams sure helped there, and she was cast in a variety of movies as a nameless chorine: The Kid from Spain42nd StreetGold Diggers of 1933Fashions of 1934, and Wonder Bar.

 

In the meantime, she appeared in movies with top stars, like Picture Snatcher (a James Cagney movie), Ex-Lady (and many more with Bette Davis), Journal of a Crime (Ruth Chatterton) and so on. Not to say she was spared from less prestigious productions: Merry Wives of RenoThe Merry Frinks and The Circus Clown were low budget films with second tier actors.

 

Renee1Despite being uncredited most of the time, in about 1934, Renee started to get meatier parts, and her character actually had names! The first was a Busby Berkeley extravaganza, Footlight Parade, and one of the best movies on her list. The Big Shakedown was a soapy melodrama featuring a young Bette Davis, with a predictable plot but it’s far from total ruin. Bedside was a similar movie that uses all the standard melodramatic tropes.  I’ve Got Your Number is one of those vivacious, a bit wicked comedies with Joan Blondell, the type of movies she excelled in. Jimmy the Gent is a wonderfully delightful satire/comedy with Bette Davis and James Cagney, a true classic that lost none of it’s magic. Registered Nurse, Renee’s return to the “strong woman” arena was a ambiguous film that oscillated between serious drama and a zany comedy, and gave Bebe Daniels one of her better roles in her later career.

 

l0tcu2qx7w880lcwReturn of the Terror gave her a try at horror, unfortunately just not a very good one. Side Streets is one of those mature, placid movies Hollywood never made for the money. Not only are the leads, Aline MacMahon and Paul Kelly not typical “Hollywood handsome” actors, the bottom line of the story is that stunning looks can conceal a shallow, vapid personality.
Kansas City Princess is another Joan Blondell witty comedy, and she was paired with Renee’s good friend, Glenda Farrell. Western Courage was her one venture into the low budget western zone. As with most actresses, it did nothing for her career.

 

Near the end of her career, Renee appeared in several shorts – finally, she got the converted female lead role in Counsel on De Fence, a well received 20 minute feature, the first thing Harry Langdon did for Columbia. She did not fare was well in the other two (Stage Frights and Tuned Out), as she was very low on the credits list in both.

 

After averaging more than 10 movies a year, Renee had a severely diminished output after 1934. She was in only four movies in 1935 and three in 1936. The first two made in 1936, Hell-Ship Morgan and Let’s Sing Again, were both B class. It seemed her days of fame were long gone by then, and stardom would elude her.
Her last movie was the classic musical, Show Boat, featuring the highly accomplished Irene Dunne. She retired from the movies afterwards.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Renee hit the press in 1929, and some pretty flattering things were written about her. Originally featured in a pack with 7 other starlets on their way to stardom, at just 17, she did not reach the peak of her beauty – that happened two years later, in 1931, when she was singled out by the prestigious illustrator Henry Clive as the “perfect model”. When a guy who painted hundreds of stunning models says that, one stands up and listens.

3ao7jgce5i3n3icThe press mostly dealt with Renee’s professional life, never mentioning her dating habits, so little is known about that. It was noted she and Glenda Farrell, her frequent co-star, were great friends off screen, nursing each other when they were sick and so on. In 1935, Renee hit the papers again after losing 15 pounds as a result of an appendectomy, and it was noted she was the sweetheart of a mid western steel millionaire.

Renee married a Mr. Klein in about 1936. There is a good chance that Klein was the midwestern steel millionaire mentioned in the previous newspaper clips. If that is so, I assume she moved to his home state and ended her career for good.

They divorced prior to 1940, and she went on to live with her widowed mother, Bertha Lord, in Santa Monica. She was listed as unemployed, and not looking for a job, indicating that she was probably living off her alimony payments.

Renee married for the second time to a Mr. George. Unfortunately, I have no further information about this marriage.

Renee L. George died on September 16, 1972 in Los Angeles, California.